The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India on Thursday advised consumers to avoid eating half-boiled eggs and undercooked chicken in view of the countrywide outbreak of avian flu among poultry, reported PTI. At the same time, the regulator urged consumers to not panic, saying there was no need to stop buying poultry products as long as they are cooked properly.

The Centre on January 18 said that the outbreak of avian influenza or bird flu had been confirmed in 14 states. In India, the disease spreads mostly through migratory birds entering the country during the winter season.

While H5N1 poses no apparent threat to humans, its highly pathogenic strains can be deadly to domestic poultry and sometimes, wild birds. Cases of human bird flu infections are due to contact with infected poultry or surfaces that are contaminated with infected bird excretions such as saliva, nasal secretions or feces.

In a document titled “Safe handling, processing and consumption of poultry meat and eggs during bird flu outbreak’’, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India on Thursday listed the precautionary steps to be taken at retail meat shops, by consumers, and by those who work in the poultry industry.

The food regulator noted that most strains of avian influenza virus are mainly found in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of infected birds, and not in meat. But highly pathogenic versions of the viruses, such as the H5N1 strain, can spread to virtually all parts of an infected bird, it said.

Besides, highly pathogenic avian influenza can be found inside and on the surface of eggs laid by infected birds, FSSAI added. Although sick birds will normally stop producing eggs, eggs laid in the early phase of the disease could contain viruses in the egg-white and yolk as well as on the surface of the shell.

Food Safety and Standards Authority of India also mentioned that the World Health Organization has stated it is safe to consume poultry meat and eggs, and that there is no epidemiological data to suggest the disease can be transmitted to humans through cooked food.

Also read: Bird flu makes a comeback in Kerala’s Alappuzha district as new case reported in Kainakary

But consumers should properly cook meat and eggs before eating to err on the side of caution, the regulator said. This “inactivates the virus present inside” the products.

Further, the regulator advised consumers not to purchase eggs or poultry meat sourced from bird flu- affected areas. “Poultry meat and eggs from areas with outbreaks in poultry should not be consumed raw or partially cooked,” it added.

Guidelines for retail stores, other sellers

For retail stores, the FSSAI asked sellers to avoid bringing live or dead poultry birds from the infected areas so that the virus does not enter the food chain.

People handling raw meat should wear gloves, masks and wash their hands properly with water and soap, especially before and after handling the raw poultry and eggs. Further, contact should be avoided with bird droppings, it added.

As per the guidelines, all surfaces and utensils that have been in contact with the raw meat should be washed and disinfected. Meat sellers must also clean and sanitise the knives and chopping boards between cutting, or slaughtering two birds, the food regulator said, adding that all the waste generated from the retail poultry shop must be properly disposed.

While handling and cooking of poultry meat, the FSSAI suggested not to wash the chicken in running water as it may cause water splashing and spread of droplets contaminating the surroundings.